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Negation in Spanish



Did you watch our video about Spanish negation? In it, Marta explains that to make a negative sentence in Spanish, you basically need to place the word no before the verb in any given sentence, like this one from our animated friend Guillermina:

No quería que jugáramos con nuestros juguetes.

She didn't want us to play with our toys.

Caption 49, Guillermina y Candelario - El mundo de los juguetes perdidos

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By combining the word no with the word ni (nor) you can negate more than one idea:

Porque sin ti no me importan los minutos ni los días

Because without you I don't care about minutes or days

Caption 8, Belinda - Bella Traición

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As in English, you can use ni (nor) as many times as you want:

No te conoce el toro ni la higuera,

The bull does not know you, nor the fig tree,

ni caballos ni hormigas de tu casa.

nor the horses, nor the ants at your house.

Captions 4-5, Acercándonos a la Literatura - García Lorca - Alma ausente

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There are some other negative words in Spanish: nada (nothing), nadie (nobody), jamás (never), nunca (never), and tampoco (neither). How are these negative words used in Spanish? You place them right before the verb:

Mira, nunca me vayas a olvidar

Look, never forget me

Caption 24, Alberto Barros - Mano a mano

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You can also combine these words with the word no. In this case you should use no before the verb and the additional negative after it:

Porque en el campo no hay nadie. -Claro.

Because there is nobody in the field. -Of course.

Caption 19, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa

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As you can see, this leads us to probably the most interesting thing about negation in Spanish: the fact that double and triple negatives are very common:

No me gusta deberle nada a nadie.

I don't like to owe anything to anyone.

Caption 12, El Ausente - Acto 2

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Notice how in the previous quote the English translation uses the negative “don’t” first, and then the affirmative “anything” and “anyone” instead of “nothing” and “nobody” (which are the literal equivalent to nada and nadie). This is so because formal written English doesn’t use double negation. By contrast, the general rule in Spanish is not to mix negative and affirmative words in the same sentence. See for example:


Yo no pido nada más

I don't ask for anything else

Caption 14, Enrique Iglesias - Alguien soy yo

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Where Spanish uses two consecutive negatives (no and nada), English uses one negative (don't) and one affirmative (anything). Saying "Yo no pido algo más" or "Yo pido nada más" in Spanish is similar to saying “I don’t ask for nothing else” in English.


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